Camonghne Felix

Courtesy of Camonghne.

Courtesy of Camonghne.

Age || 27 

Job Title || Poet

START DATE || 16 years old

YEARS LIVING IN NEW YORK || my whole life

SOCIAL HANDLES || @Camonghne

Pre-Order Her Book || Build yourself a boat

What did you want to be as a child? 

I always really liked writing and reading. I cycled between a bunch of different ideas. One day I would say I wanted to be a doctor, the next day I would say I wanted to be a teacher. For the longest time I wanted to be a neurosurgeon.

What’s the best piece of advice you were given when you were starting out?

I think the best piece advice I got was around intentionality. When I first started to write poems I was performing my poetry like slam poetry and my coach, Mahogany L. Browne, used to make us do push ups whenever we did something with out intention. When you’re on stage performing, sometimes you might just flip your hand or flip your hair or something that seems benign, but in a performance where everyone is watching you, everything you do has to be intentional because they assume that it is. That was one of the biggest lessons I got was her telling me everything I do should be intentional. That extends beyond the physical aspects of performing and into the craftsmanship of the writing. You learn little by little, I do need a period here or I don't need this stanza or maybe this extra line isn't of service.

How do you define success?

For me success looks like a lot of different things. Right now, because I have a book coming out and I'm publishing and working through that process, it would be selling the book, people enjoying it and getting good feedback in how it reads and how the narrative comes across. Next year won't be a book year for me so I won't be in the process of publishing. So success for me next year will be just getting to a place in the manuscript where I feel like it’s moving and it really has legs. Overall, it’s just trying to be happy with yourself and what you make. 

Do you have a personal motto?

I have it tattooed on my thighs, "Say that the river turns and turn the river." It’s a quote by Gwendolyn Brooks from a poem she has called ‘The Second Sermon on the Warpland.’ I love it so much because Gwendolyn Brooks spoke a lot about the intrinsic power of black womanhood and black femininity. When she wrote, ‘say that the river turns and turn the river,’ she really wrote it as a love letter to women and girls of color. It was a reminder that the world is not a great place, but we have a natural power and ability to transcend those bad things and make the world a better place. It’s a reminder for me that that when I'm frustrated or something seems like its not working out, all I have to do is change something about the way I'm thinking or going through the world. That will change the way that I'm experiencing the world. 

Which women inspire you? 

Oh my God I don't even know where to start. People like Morgan Parker, Angel Nafis, Mahogany L. Browne, Joviva Maxwell, and Jove Colman. There are so many that I can't even name right now. I think of the people from before that inspire me more than any of my peers right now. I just feel like all of the women and especially women of color and feminist and black feminists who have lived and died so that we could just have a better world and a better understanding of ourselves and our abilities. 

What is your creative process like? 

It depends. Recently my process has been waking up at four in the morning and just writing down a line. It’s funny because a lot of my creative process recently been more like theory based and trying to really trying to change the way I think about myself and my craft. My voice is changing a lot right now, and I don't really understand what or how so my practice has not been as fluid. So maybe six months ago I could just sit down and write a poem, but thats not really how they come out right now. The biggest part of my process right now is talking through those moments. It’s just one line, so what can I do with this one line. Right now, I'm just changing the way I identifying with my process and will be adjusting this creative process once this book is done. 

What do you want readers to gain by reading Build Yourself A Boat?

I hope they gain perspective on how many ways there are to heal. I hope that they gain a sense of closure for survivors of sexual assault and just, in general, people who are survivors or people that are surviving. I hope that they read the book and get a sense of closure, like they are done surviving and they can just thrive. I hope that it makes someone feel that way. 

How does it feel sharing your personal stories with people?

It has changed over the years. It used to feel like I owed it to people to tell them my story. As if telling my story and telling the ugliest most violent parts of my story were the only things that would validate me as a writer. What I've learned is that inferiority is something that we all share. Inferiority is is not necessarily a gift and so I just remind myself that I am not doing anything particularly profound or special by telling the truth. What I am doing is opening up a space where other people can continue to tell the truth. I think of it as less as sharing and less transactional and more of just a part of what we all have to do to make sure that there is a world for writers and readers.

It doesn't really feel very personal. Even though these are my personal stories and they are all true, I am giving the world my narrative, I am giving the world a piece of my personal story. I am going the world a craft, a product. But I am not just opening up and bleeding out, because that would be irresponsible and it’s not healthy for me. I have learned to create a distance where I understand that my job is not to bleed for the world so that others can find comfort. My job is contextualize and shape and give people language to understand their experiences and how they actually shaped them. 

What would you say to other women of color trying to break into a field like this? 

I would say to them that there is so much more merit and so much more joy in being authentically yourself than trying to be or sound or act like anybody else. Something that I see, and this is for young women of color in every sector, they correlate power with the way that white men are able to achieve power. So, in their heads the image they're being presented of success is an image created by white men, for white men. What I try to explain to young women is that there is nothing interesting about being a white man. Your idea of success and the way that you perform your success should not be framed solely around trying to imitate or mimic white maleness.

So that means, on a very basic level, bringing more queerness into the world and bringing more feminism into the world and into our workspaces. Creating the kind of working environment where people feel safe to cry. Creating the kind of craftsmanship and craft spaces where people feel okay to question. Going back to intentionality, identifying out in the world the kind of person you want to be and then work really hard everyday to be that person. What I mean by that is not what you want to have, who you want to be, or what kind of books you want to write. But, when people look at you and they feel things about you, what do you want them to feel about you? What do you want the world to say about you and then just focus steadfast on that.

What are some of your goals moving forward as a poet? 

One of my goals is to be one of the first poets to ever serve real public office. Part of why that is a goal for me is not just framed in my political world but bridges my poetic world as well. I've been able to realize in the last year that what makes poetry and poets so special is that we create a world with imagination where we introduce new content, new ways of thinking, and new frame works of thought. I am so curious to know what this world would like if there were a bunch of poets running it. Another goal is working on a pro poetry, novel thing. I just really want an agent to pay attention to me so I can sell this sh*t for a lot of money.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Sarah Fielding